Raf Alajmo's guide to Venice

Raf Alajmo's guide to Venice

Raf Alajmo's guide to Venice

by Amy Gulick14 March 2018

The man behind one of Italy’s most famous three-starred restaurants, Le Calandre, shares his favourite places to eat and drink in the world’s most beautiful city.

Discover more about this region's cuisine:

Follow Great Italian Chefs

Raf Alajmo's guide to Venice

The man behind one of Italy’s most famous three-starred restaurants, Le Calandre, shares his favourite places to eat and drink in the world’s most beautiful city.

Amy Gulick is a freelance writer and translator from California who lived in Tuscany for over twenty years.

Amy Gulick is a freelance writer and translator from California who lived in Tuscany for over twenty years. She writes about Italian feast day traditions and food folklore, Tuscan specialities, and food-related trends and issues in Italian society. In addition to developing recipes and writing for magazines, Amy researches the ingredients and food customs of Italy’s peasant class of the last century, and revisits old recipes in her kitchen.

With ten establishments in Padua, Venice and Paris, brothers Raffaele and Massimiliano Alajmo know a thing or two about dining and cuisine. Raf’s extensive experience in the restaurant world began as director and sommelier at the Alajmo family restaurant Le Calandre just outside Padua, where he worked alongside his brother Max, a world-renowned chef (the youngest in history to earn three Michelin stars). Today Raf oversees the Alajmo group of restaurants as CEO and maître des lieux. He recently took us on a tour of some of his favourite food and drink locales in what is perhaps Italy’s, if not the world’s, most enchanting city – Venice.


Good for: traditional and unique cichéti

Not far from the Rialto Bridge, All’Arco is a bacaro – an informal eatery where small, canapé-like snacks known as cicchetti (or cichéti in the local dialect) are served – offering a wide variety of bite-sized Venetian specialities. Tourists and locals alike fill this popular eatery come lunchtime, where, in keeping with authentic bacaro tradition, there is no table service. Instead, diners order cicchetti at the counter before taking a seat or leaning against a wall outside. As well as cicchetti, All’Arco serves dishes like sarde in saor, always with market-fresh local fish. The selection of wine from their cantina is also noteworthy, according to Raf.

Raf says: ‘In addition to their regular menu favourites I enjoy All’Arco’s unusual combination of ingredients used to craft their cicchetti, along with some very interesting sandwiches. Definitely try the crostini with sautéed peas and raw mantis shrimp.’

San Polo 436, 30125, Venice.

Good for: a no-frills Venetian snack and glass of wine

Agli Schiavi

A family-run business since the 1950s, Agli Schiavi is a basic bacaro doing cicchetti in the old-school manner: small slices of bread topped with tasty ingredients and served with toothpicks. Agli Schiavi is ideal for visitors who want to feel like a local and seek a simple, authentic Venetian experience. Wine lovers will appreciate their impressive selection of Italian wines, alongside several choices of liqueurs and grappa. This is a great stop for a late morning snack or pre-dinner aperitivo – pile up your plate with cicchetti, order a glass of Prosecco then head outside to enjoy both along the canal.

Raf says: ‘Be sure to try the tuna salad cicchetti, made with raw leeks and egg.’

Fondamenta Nani 992, 30123 Dorsoduro, Venice. cantinaschiavi.com

Antica Drogheria Mascari

Good for: a heady array of Italian speciality items

Located on the Venetian calle where spice merchants set up their stores, the colourful Antica Drogheria Mascari is a traditional shop offering a stunning selection of ingredients and speciality products: spices in bulk, liqueurs, teas, jams and honeys, balsamic vinegars, truffles, an impressive selection of Italian wines, cookies and other sweets from around the country.

Raf says: ‘A visit to the Mascari feels like an old-world experience, where the rich history of the Venetian spice trade comes to life.’

San Polo 381, 30125, Venice. imascari.com

Acqua Pazza

Good for: excellent local fish and seafood

Raf says: ‘You absolutely must try the paccheri pasta, a dish of highest quality paccheri (large, tube-shaped pasta similar to rigatoni and popular in the Naples area) served with a sauce of lightly sautéed fresh tomato and local granseola crab meat.’

San Marco 3808, 30124, Venice. veniceacquapazza.com

Harry’s Bar

Good for: an extra-dry martini or Bellini cocktail

For nearly a century, the historic Venetian locale and Italian national landmark Harry’s Bar has fascinated locals and visitors alike with its distinguished clientele, classic interiors and world-famous creations like the Bellini cocktail. Given his fondness for gin martinis, no wonder Raj heads to Harry’s for their very dry version, served in an icy, stemless glass. Take a seat at the bar and wait for some of the delightful finger foods to arrive from the kitchen, including the ‘most delicious small fried meatballs’, which Raf often enjoys as an aperitivo alongside his drink before heading out to dine in Venice.

San Marco, Calle Vallaresso 1323, 30124, Venice. cipriani.com


Good for: award-winning cocktails in a historic palace

Part of the Alajmo dynasty, AMO opened in 2016 in the atrium of Venice’s historic T Fondaco dei Tedeschi building. At the AMO cafè, atypical Italian breakfast and snack items like dairy-, flour-, and gluten-free sweets and turmeric cream-filled pastries are on offer, alongside coffees made from select Arabica beans and prepared by specially trained baristas. At mealtime, the full kitchen presents a range of delightful creations, from fried and steamed pizzas to breaded raw lobster and sea bass carpaccio.

Raf says: ‘Try master barman Lucas Kelm’s sea-inspired martini, made with unusual ingredients like oysterleaf and oyster juice.’

San Marco 5556, 30100 Venice. alajmo.it

Grancaffè Quadri

Good for: a superb coffee and iconic views

When the Alajmos took over the space that is now Grancaffè Quadri in Piazza San Marco, they inherited not just a piece of Venetian history, but a hefty cultural and architectural legacy as well – one they embraced with enthusiasm and an eye towards conservation. A recent complex renovation headed by Philippe Starck, in fact, has restored this Venetian institution(opened in the seventeenth century asIl Remedio and purchased over a century later by Giorgio Quadri) to all its former enchanting and romantic majesty.

While the gorgeous interiors at Quadri are sure to enchant visitors, the views of St Mark’s Square while seated outside present what is arguably an even more memorable experience, especially when combined with a cup of the truly special house coffee. Produced by artisan coffee roaster Gianni Frasi in Verona, the unique blend obtained from unwashed, single-varietal Arabica beans is sourced in the Indonesian archipelago, exclusively for the Alajmo group. Remarkably for a Venetian establishment of Quadri’s distinction, an espresso taken standing at the Quadri bar comes at the price standard throughout much of Italy (uncommon in this tourist hotspot) so all visitors to Venice can enjoy a glimpse and taste of the historic city. Moreover, during lunch and dinner, the rooms inside Grancaffè Quadri transform into the Quadrino Bistro, serving casual, reasonably priced Italian and Venetian food right in the heart of Venice.

For Raf, the combination of exquisite coffee and inimitable views of what he calls ‘the most beautiful square in the world’ makes Grancaffè Quadri his top choice for an Italian espresso or cappuccino.

Piazza San Marco 121, 30124, Venice. alajmo.it

Enoiteca Mascareta

Good for: after-dinner drinks

One of Venice’s only late night venues, Mascareta restaurant and wine bar is run by Mauro, a legendary figure among locals known for his colourful character and popular drinking establishments. With its impressive collection of wines and spirits (including fifty types of gin!), Mascareta is one of Raf’s top choices for an after-dinner gin and tonic. Raf suggests going to Mascareta on the weekend for a chance to chat with its lively proprietor, Mauro.

Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa 5183, 30122, Venice. ostemaurolorenzon.com

Ristorante Quadri

Good for: a remarkable meal in 'four acts'

Dedicated to Philippe Starck who oversaw the recent restoration here, Ristorante Quadri’s Quattro Atti tasting menu was born when Raf and Philippe would sit down to dinner with ready appetites yet limited time. The solution? Sixteen courses over four ‘moments’ or ‘acts’ comprised of canapés, first courses, second courses and dessert. Among the innovative Italian and Venetian dishes, the Quadri tasting menu features starters like the signature cappuccino di laguna, a revisited version of Max’s cappuccino di seppie al nero (cuttlefish ink and potato purée), made with a mix of seafood and seaweed and topped with a potato purée. The first and second courses range from paccheri pasta with langoustines, broccoli rabe and pistachio sauce to Venetian-style veal liver and kidneys. For Raf, completing this extraordinary dining experience is, of course, ‘the stunning view of Saint Mark’s Square’.

Piazza San Marco 121, 30124 Venice. alajmo.it